FA chiefs back status quo but demand improvement

However, the beleaguered Swede has been left under no illusions about the scale of improvement he must produce during October's critical final Group Six qualifying games against Austria and the leaders, Poland, if his position is to remain unthreatened.

Barwick convened an emergency meeting with Eriksson and senior FA international committee members on board the subdued flight from Belfast to Heathrow that followed the humiliating defeat by Northern Ireland at Windsor Park on Wednesday night. "We all have knives to our necks if we want to play in the World Cup," said Eriksson before take-off. Fortunately for him, though, none were allowed through security.

The FA would need to pay almost £12m to relieve Eriksson of his duties now, making it "completely impossible" that he will be dismissed. The England manager's £4.2m-a-year contract, which was renewed last March and runs until summer 2008, is "watertight", according to one informed source.

There are no clauses that allow the FA to dispense with the Swede's services if England fail to meet certain targets. The only circumstances in which Eriksson will part company with the FA before 2008 is if he chooses to step down or move elsewhere.

"It is completely impossible for the FA to sack him without honouring his contract in full," the source said. The FA cannot afford the £11.9m currently necessary for a pay-off, nor does it have the appetite to sack him while World Cup qualification is still only two Old Trafford victories away.

Eriksson insisted on Wednesday that he had no intention of resigning, although he has hinted in the past that failure to reach the 2006 finals could prompt such a move.

Yet while Eriksson gratefully received Barwick's backing he did not escape without some condemnation from the FA's international committee.

One high-ranking member said: "There was no form, no pattern. Where was the pride? He has got to sort the bloody thing out... We shouldn't be talking about hoping to go to the World Cup, surely we should be past that stage."

David Beckham, the England captain and the only player Eriksson permitted to speak to the media after the defeat, admitted he did not want to be associated with the Belfast embarrassment but that the squad would reveal its potential next month.

He said: "I've still got total belief in this team. We will qualify, although this is still tough to take. This is not the England I want to be part of and none of the players want that either. None of the fans want that either. But it's up to us to put it right."

The jury's verdict: Should Eriksson stay or go?

GRAHAM KELLY, Former FA chief executive

The whole England set-up, including all this talk about the captain effectively picking the team, is so cosy that it makes me really unhappy. A change is needed, soon.

CRAIG BROWN, Former Scotland manager

I'm never in favour of removing a manager. If a contract's been signed, both sides should honour it. England only have to win two home games to qualify, which is not a bad position to be in.

GERRY FRANCIS, Former Tottenham manager

What worries me is the formation and tactical side of the team. I can't understand why Eriksson is playing one-up against Wales and Northern Ireland.

HOWARD WILKINSON, Former England caretaker manager

There are two games left to qualify and he's got to stay and get the job done. England need continuity. There's no point in a change now. His record speaks for itself.

DAVID PLEAT, Former Tottenham manager

Eriksson is trying to be all things to all people, to accommodate players, especially Beckham, and he's lost the shape of the team and the balance.

TERRY BUTCHER, Former England captain

Eriksson and his players were a rudderless ship against Northern Ireland, with no direction, and as for formations - there were more formations than in a ballroom dancing team.

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